Bar Man, by Jeff Hoyle, February 6, 2015

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Just when the worst seemed to be over for pub closures, we were faced with a dark building and locked door when we visited our favourite pub out on the fen recently.

Was this upturn in pub fortunes just a figment of my imagination? To answer the question I turned to the Fleurets market reports, useful reading for anyone interested in what is really going on behind the headlines.

The evidence presented shows there is a clear divide between the north and the south. In 2014, 64 per cent of pubs sold in the south stayed as pubs, while in the north the figure was 50 per cent.

Nationally the ones which did not remain as pubs were mostly converted into residential use (60 per cent) but the emerging trend is to convert them into retail stores.

A total of 25 per cent converted to either retail or convenience stores with the percentage of the latter rising from four to 11 per cent between 2013 and 2014.

This is confirmation of the trend suggested in the media of a change of direction for the supermarkets.

The two huge stores built on the edge of Lynn may be among the last of their type to open. Increasingly, it seems, customers are shopping more frequently and more locally or having their goods delivered.

Even those who travel to stores are ordering in advance and collecting their goods at the store.

This makes the big suburban sheds fairly useless, and Tesco have recognised this with their announcement of the closure of 49 stores, including those at Whittlesey and Chatteris as well as pulling out of the planned building of 43 more stores including a multi-million pound development at Ely

The number of pubs being converted into local mini-supermarkets is greatly aided by a planning loophole that means there is no need to apply for a change of use from a pub to a shop.

You may spot an application for new signs but some companies try to disguise even these clues by listing the application under the street address rather than by the name of a pub.

CAMRA is backing a cross-party amendment to the Infrastructure Bill which would ensure that planning permission would always be required before demolishing or converting a pub to another use.

It makes sense for the owners of the properties to sell the pubs as a going concern. I quote from the Fleurets report ‘the average sale price of freehold pubs sold for continued use has been higher than the average achieved for those sold for alternative use in four out of the last five years.’

This is more evident in the north, with prices 14 per cent higher for continued pub use, but if our local football team is forced to ply its trade in the Northern Premier League, perhaps we are all northerners now.